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Who are the secret Targaryens in Game of Thrones?

From the moment the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series was released in 1996, fans have wildly speculated over the parentage of various characters—even characters whose heritage is pretty clearly laid out in the novels. The rampant speculation usually seems to center on the Targaryens, and the identities of potential "secret" children of Mad King Aerys and other prominent members of the near-extinct royal house, or Targaryens now living under another name. Because of the "three heads of the dragon" prophecy, a lot of people theorize that House Targaryen isn't nearly as endangered as we previously believed, and offer up a multitude of potential secret Targaryens. Let's take a look at some of these candidates and try to pick the true dragons out of the pack, but beware: spoilers ahead.

Why so many secret Targaryens?

The idea of "secret" or hidden Targaryens in the A Song of Ice and Fire series got started early on—after all, a major premise of the story is that House Targaryen is nearly extinct, with only Daenerys and Viserys remaining. However, we soon start to learn that isn't exactly the case. The books heavily hinted that R L = J, giving us our first potential "secret" Targaryen. We learned that Maester Aemon and Brynden Bloodraven (the Three-Eyed Crow) are also Targaryens, and suddenly it seems completely plausible that there are many more Targaryens or their descendants possibly hiding in plain sight.

Targaryens, Blackfyres, and bastards

In The Sworn Sword—one of several novellas set roughly 90 years before the events of the main series—we learn that King Aegon IV (the Unworthy) had a habit of taking mistresses and fathering many bastards, much like Robert Baratheon:

"Aegon's bastards had been the bane of the Seven Kingdoms ever since the old king had died. He had legitimized the lot upon his deathbed; not only the Great Bastards like Bloodraven, Bittersteel, and Daemon Blackfyre, whose mothers had been ladies, but even the lesser ones he'd fathered on whores and tavern wenches, merchant's daughter's, mummer's maidens, and every pretty peasant girl who chanced to catch his eye. Fire and Blood were the words of House Targaryen, but Dunk once heard Ser Arlen say that Aegon's should have been Wash Her and Bring Her to My Bed."

While there isn't a definitive number known for the number of bastards that Aegon IV fathered, he claimed to have slept with at least 900 women. While this is probably an exaggeration, my guess is that he probably fathered at least 50-100 bastards, who were all legitimized before Aegon died. Only one of them—Daemon—actually founded a noble house (Blackfyre) upon being legitimized, while the others retained their birth surnames. So when we talk about potential hidden Targaryens, they are going to fit into one of three categories: trueborn Targaryens that were born within wedlock, Blackfyres, and Targaryen bastards.

The male line of House Blackfyre was extinguished when Barristan the Bold slew Maelys Blackfyre during the fifth (and final) Blackfyre rebellion. The female line continues, but we don't have current information on whether any descendants are currently alive. So let's take a look at the remaining potential Targaryens, and who they potentially descended from.

Jon Snow

Parents: Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark

Backstory and Evidence: Lyanna Stark, sister of Eddard and Brandon Stark, disappeared not long after the Tournament at Harrenhal—where tourney winner Rhaegar Targaryen crowned Lyanna the "queen of love and beauty." Eldest brother Brandon and Lyanna's betrothed—Robert Baratheon—were outraged by her disappearance as well as Mad King Aerys' other atrocities. Brandon went to King's Landing and demanded Rhaegar come out to face him. Instead, Aerys captured him and demanded Lord Rickard Stark come to King's Landing to answer for Brandon's "crimes." He went, but Aerys had him apprehended and both Rickard and Brandon were soon executed in torturous fashion. Robert Baratheon, Jon Arryn, and Eddard Stark raised their banners and a full rebellion was soon underway. Following the death of King Aerys and his son Rhaegar, Ned went to Dorne with a handful of companions. At the Tower of Joy—named so by Rhaegar—they encountered three Kingsguard guarding the tower. A fight ensued, leaving Eddard Stark and Howland Reed as the only survivors. They entered the tower, where Ned found Lyanna dying in the birthing bed. When her newborn son was shown to Ned, Lyanna begged him to "promise me." This presumably was a promise to raise the child as his own and never reveal his true identity for the child's safety.

Verdict: Fans were vindicated when the long held theory of R L=J was finally confirmed during the season six finale on Game of Thrones. Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark are Jon's parents. All that remains in doubt is his actual surname. Some fans believe that Lyanna and Rhaegar secretly married before his birth, which would make him Jon Targaryen. If the birth was out of wedlock, his surname could have been either Jon Snow (as his mother is a noble of the North), or Jon Waters (as his father is a noble of the Crownlands). Being born in Dorne has nothing to do with it, so people who claim he should be "Jon Sand" are dead wrong. Most notable bastards with heritage like this—such as Brynden Rivers—ended up taking their mother's regional bastard name, making Jon Snow the most likely true name. Personally, I feel that if Jon ever learns about his true parentage—and it isn't proven that Rhaegar and Lyanna were married—he will either keep the Snow surname or perhaps adopt one of his own choosing. "Whitefyre" has a nice ring to it.

Tyrion Hill

Parents: King Aerys II Targaryen and Joanna Lannister

Backstory and Evidence: During his reign, Aerys II had a reputation for pursuing other women besides his wife, Rhaella. Among them was the lovely Joanna Lannister, wife of his friend and Hand, Tywin. Not long after Joanna and Tywin's wedding, Queen Rhaella dismissed Joanna from her service, not wanting her husband's infidelities to extend to her ladies-in-waiting. It was rumored that Aerys pursued Joanna relentlessly, and during the tournament in King's Landing in 272 AC, Aerys acted lewdly towards Joanna—asking her if nursing her twins had ruined her breasts. Joanna soon returned to Casterly Rock, and died giving birth to Tyrion sometime in 273 AC. While Tyrion on the show doesn't really resemble the typical Targaryens, in the books he is described as having a mix of pale blond and black hair, with mismatched black and green eyes. The only other character we see in the books with mismatched eyes is Shiera Seastar, a "Great Bastard" of Aegon IV. He was obsessed with dragons from a young age, which could be due to his potential Targaryen blood. Tywin frequently told Tyrion that he doubted Tyrion was his son, but could not prove it.

Verdict: Plausible, but I personally hope it isn't true. We don't know the exact dates of the tournament in King's Landing in 272, or of Tyrion's birth in 273. It is possible that the tournament was held in the late summer or fall, and if Aerys impregnated Joanna at that time, she would have given birth in the spring or early summer of 273. The other evidence is circumstantial at best. Much of Tyrion's character arc and motivations are related to his strained relationship with Tywin. He constantly tries to earn Tywin's approval and affection, and when he finally realizes the extent of his father's hatred and betrayal, Tyrion ends up murdering him. To me, it would really ruin the dynamic of this father/son relationship if Tyrion wasn't truly Tywin's son—as Tywin had long suspected. If it does turn out to be true, I'll be pretty disappointed, although it will add some dramatic irony that Jaime and Tyrion ended up killing each other's fathers. As mentioned with surnames, a bastard born to two noble parents could take either regional name as their surname, so this could make Tyrion a "Hill" or a "Waters."

Cersei and Jaime Hill

Parents: King Aerys II Targaryen and Joanna Lannister

Backstory and Evidence: As previously mentioned, Aerys had a serious thing for Joanna Lannister. Some people theorize that he fathered Jaime and Cersei. Their fondness for brother-sister incest could be an expression of their Targaryen roots, as the Targaryens have frequently wed brother to sister for generations. In particular, Cersei exhibits many tendencies that are reminiscent of Mad King Aerys—including her paranoia, cruelty, and penchant for vengeance.

Verdict: Not likely. As I previously mentioned, I am already pretty dubious about the possibility that Aerys fathered Tyrion. The Mad King as the father of Cersei and Jaime is even more far-fetched. Joanna was sent back to Casterly Rock in 263 AC, and seldom went to King's Landing after that. Similarly, Aerys didn't visit Casterly Rock until 267, a full year after the twins were born. Cersei and Jaime strongly resemble their Lannister forbearers—with golden (not platinum) hair and green eyes. Cersei's power-hungry madness is a reflection of how she was raised, and her paranoia largely stems from the "valonqar" prophecy she received in her youth. There's really no concrete evidence to back this one up, just a lot of circumstantial supposition.

Khal Tyrion

Parents: Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo

Backstory and Evidence: Following Drogo's illness, the maegi Mirri Maz Duur performed blood magic at Daenerys' command in an attempt to save the Khal. Daenerys gave birth at the same time to a stillborn child, who Mirri Maz Duur described as being "full of grave worms" and "dead for years." Some readers theorize that this could be the child Joanna had been pregnant with during 273 AC, which was somehow magically swapped with the child Daenerys had been carrying. Joanna gave birth to Tyrion, who is actually the son of Daenerys and Drogo. This could explain his mixed pale blond and black hair, as well as his other disfigurements—caused by the blood magic ritual. Daenerys gave birth to the child of Joanna, which is why it looked like it had been dead for many years.

Verdict: No. Tyrion is not the Time-Traveling Fetus that was Promised. This whole theory is so crazy, only the most tinfoil-armored fans can even entertain it as a possibility. Much of the so-called "evidence" also relies on Tyrion's supposed parallels with mythical Greek figure Oedipus (who killed his father and married his mother), and theorizes Tyrion will end up marrying Daenerys. It conveniently ignores the fact that if this theory is true, then the person Tyrion killed—Tywin—was not his father, and because Khal Drogo was killed by an infection (and the interference of Mirri Maz Duur), the whole idea no longer mirrors the story of Oedipus.

Lord Varys

Parents: Descended from Aerion Targaryen

Backstory and Evidence: Aerion "Brightflame" Targaryen, elder brother of King Aegon V (known as "Egg") and Maester Aemon, was known to be quite the ladies' man. By the end of his fairly short life, Aerion was also a drunk and bordering on insane. But before that, Aerion spent several years in Lys after his father exiled him there. While there, it's likely that Aerion availed himself of the city's famed pillow-houses and brothels. George R.R. Martin stated that Aerion may have fathered a few bastards in Lys, and while the timeline and ages don't match up for Varys to be one of them, he could be a descendant of that line, since he was born a slave in Lys. If Varys knows of his true heritage, he could be choosing to keep it a secret to protect himself—which also might be why he keeps his head shaven, if he actually has the silver-gold hair of a Targaryen. This could also explain why he and his friend Illyrio Mopatis have been so eager to help Daenerys regain the Iron Throne.

Verdict: Pure speculation. We don't know much about Varys' early life or parentage, that's true. But there's really nothing to connect him to Aerion Targaryen as a descendant. Even if Varys really has silver-gold hair, that doesn't mean he's a Targaryen descendant. That hair color (and purple, lilac, and indigo eyes) were commonly found among all old Valryian bloodlines. Since many of those houses fled to Lys during the Doom of Valryia, that hair and eye color combination is actually more common in Lys than anywhere else in the world. As for his motivations, I choose to believe that "show" Varys is truly motivated by his desire to have the realm be stable. In the books, his motivations are a little more complicated, but I think the end goal has been to place a puppet "fake" Targaryen on the throne—the purported Aegon Targaryen—who I believe to actually be the child of Illyrio himself.

Quaithe = Shiera Seastar

Parents: Aegon IV Targaryen and Sereni of Lys

Backstory and Evidence: As I mentioned at the start of this article, Aegon the Unworthy fathered a ton of bastards. The most notable were known as the "Great Bastards." Among those was Shiera Seastar, the daughter of Aegon and a mistress from Lys. There's a theory which has been making the rounds for several years that Quaithe—the mysterious masked shadowbinder of Asshai—is actually Shiera Seastar in disguise. There are several parallels between the two characters, which I discussed in this article about the Craziest Game of Thrones theories. I'd recommend you give it a read if you want more details.

Verdict: While there really isn't much concrete evidence to prove this one, I really adore this theory and want it to be true. While Shiera would be around 120 years old at this point, this isn't completely implausible. Brynden "Bloodraven" Rivers (the Three-Eyed Crow) has lived 125 years with the aid of the magic of the Weirwood tree, and those trained in Asshai (like Melisandre) have mastered the arts of prolonging life unnaturally, while projecting an illusion of youth and beauty. Even Maester Aemon lived to be over 100 years old, without the aid of magic.

Melony Seastar

Parents: daughter of Shiera Seastar

Backstory and Evidence: This theory is similar to that of the Quaithe=Shiera theory I just discussed. The theory doesn't suggest that Quaithe is Shiera, so you don't have to believe that theory to believe this one. Basically, the idea is simply that Melisandre (born Melony) was the child of Shiera—and either orphaned or abandoned by her mother. We don't know much about Melisandre's backstory, except her memory of being sold at a young age on the auction block to the Red Temple. Her red eyes are reminiscent of Brynden Bloodraven, the half-brother and lover of Shiera. In the books, Bloodraven was an albino who had red eyes, as does Melisandre. Bloodraven was exiled to the Wall in 233 AC. Presuming that Shiera conceived a child with Bloodraven just before his exile, that would make her child around 67 today. If you want a full breakdown of the evidence, check out this thread on the Westeros.org forums.

Verdict: I like the idea and find it very creative. The show revealed Melisandre's true visage as a very old woman—much older than someone in their 60s. It's implied that Melisandre has been alive for several centuries. Just because the show chose to go this direction with the character does not rule out this theory. We've had no such reveal of her age in the A Song of Ice and Fire books, which means this theory could still be true. In fact, I find it more plausible that she is not actually centuries old. She made a massive mistake with her interpretations of her visions in the fire, and you wouldn't think that a woman who had the experience of centuries under her belt would make such mistakes.

Mance Rayder = Rhaegar Targaryen

Parents: King Aerys II Targaryen and Queen Rhaella Targaryen

Backstory and Evidence: The theory basically boils down to this: Rhaegar Targaryen was resurrected by followers of R'hollor on the battlefield, after he was slain by Robert Baratheon at the Trident. Being of a prophetic nature, Rhaegar knew somehow that Jon Snow would end up in the Night's Watch one day, and so the resurrected Rhaegar made his way North, crossing beyond the Wall and becoming the eventual King Beyond-The-Wall in order to keep an eye on his son and heir.

Verdict: This makes no sense at all. We have an established history for Mance. He was a wildling child found among a group of raiders who were executed by the Night's Watch. The Watch raised the child among them, and he eventually joined the order. He later abandoned the Night's Watch to join the Wildlings, and rose to become their chosen leader. There's no evidence that Rhaegar was ever resurrected, and even if he did, his chest was caved in by Robert's warhammer. As we've seen with Jon Snow and Beric Dondarrion, those old wounds don't just disappear upon resurrection. Mance Rayder has no such disfigurement. If Rhaegar was still alive, you'd think he would have gone in search of his son, or at least raised an army among Targaryen loyalists in order to oust the Usurper. Mance has shown no hint or indication that he feels anything towards Jon other than the friendliness and respect Jon has earned.

Conclusion

Even though the revelation that R L truly does = J has many fans feeling there are secret Targaryens hiding under nearly every rock, I just don't believe it. Making several of these characters secret or hidden Targaryens (like Tyrion) would cheapen the overall plot and weaken the strength of Daenerys' storyline—the last scion of her house, trying to reclaim her birthright. The only theories mentioned here (besides the proven Jon Snow theory) that I wouldn't mind actually happening are those that revolve around Shiera Seastar. I've always had a fascination with this beautiful and mysterious figure, and I'd love it if George R.R. Martin found a way to weave her back into today's story. What do you think? Are any of these characters truly secret Targaryens? Do you have an idea about other hidden Targaryens I might have forgotten? Drop me a line on Twitter and let me know!